Spectre of state violence just won't go away

Spectre of state violence just won't go away

The commemoration of the bloody 6 Oct 1976 crackdown against the student-led rally inside Thammasat University is usually a low-key event, observed by former student activists and relatives of the dead.

This year, however, this dark chapter of modern Thai history seems to be receiving more attention, thanks to the growing interest of the red shirts.

The slogan of this year's commemoration shows the red shirts adopting the cause of the Oct 6 rally as their own.

The slogan was: 6 x 36 = 112.

Six is the day of the month of October when the crackdown took place; 36 represents this year being the 36th anniversary of the massacre.

And 112 stands for Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.

During the commemoration, some in the crowd chanted fearlessly: "same masterminds _ then and now".

The red shirts are comparing the violence in April-May 2010 with the Oct 6 massacre, saying both are marked by the same "licence to kill" modus operandi. The culprits, they believe, were those who claimed themselves to be royalists out on a witchhunt to eradicate whoever they believed to be anti-monarchists.

They say this is a mighty network, cutting across powerful institutions such as the military, the bureaucracy and the propagandist media, which fanned public anger against anyone portrayed as "aiming to topple the monarchy".

But why the solidarity with Oct 6 massacre victims in this particular year?

Obviously, this is the direct result of the recent Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. Red shirts believe the report unfairly played down state violence against civilians.

According to the TRC report, the armed "men in black" were comrades of red-shirt demonstrators who sought to oust the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

These men in black, the report says, were responsible for the deaths of five military personnel and some 300 injuries on 10 April, 2010, when 19 civilians were also killed and 500 civilians hurt.

The April-May 2010 political violence saw over 90 deaths, thousands injured, thousands arrested and hundreds prosecuted. The October 1976 crackdown documented 42 deaths, with 145 injured.

Back in those Cold War days, the anti-communist craze resulted in 3,094 students and people being arrested and indicted with various charges ranging from being threats to national security, being communists, and committing treason, the last of which could result in the death penalty.

Fleeing for safety, thousands were forced to join the Communist Party of Thailand in the jungles to engage in guerrilla warfare. They returned three to five years later after the government produced an amnesty plan and the communism charges had been dropped.

State violence was not the only thing the 1976 and 2010 crackdowns had in common.

An air of great mystery also hovers over these two events. Two years after the 2010 violence and 36 years after the Oct 6 massacre, there remain missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzles.

Sadly, mainstream society is too pre-occupied with immediate concerns, such as the high cost of living, unemployment and _ at the moment _ flooding, to dig deep into the horrors of state violence in the recent or distant past.

In fact, many who hold powerful positions in the system seem to believe that letting bygones be bygones, without identifying the culprits, is actually the way to achieve political reconciliation _ that this is the way to prevent violence from being used as a last resort again.

But I don't agree. Only when the facts are laid out on the table and every piece of the jigsaw puzzles can be put together to complete the picture can we take a step forward towards forgiveness _ and finally move on.

It is unrealistic, however, to expect state authorities to confront and accept our troubled political past.

It took nearly four decades before 14 Oct, 1973, could be dubbed Democracy Day. It should not surprise anyone if it takes the violence in 1976 and 2010 a much longer time to capture the attention of mainstream society.

Meanwhile, the dark periods in our political history are brushed aside by the powers-that-be as the history of only small groups of people on the margins of society. Open discussions on these national tragedies cannot take place until Thailand becomes an open society.

Until then, the task of constantly reminding society about the unfinished business of democratisation falls on the shoulders of relatives and friends of the victims of political violence.

As their struggle continues, Thailand has still failed to remove the spectre of renewed state violence from the picture, and will continue to fail until competing power factions learn to put ideological differences aside and agree to disagree.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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